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Meeting in the Middle: Kaivama, March 10 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 06:27

The Minnesota-based Finnish-American instrumental folk duo Kaivama – performing at the River Music Experience on March 10 – has been around for less than two years, and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rundman acknowledges that “the whole band has kind of happened in reverse. We got a gig before we existed as a group. So we had to form the band in order to play the gig.”

And its self-titled debut album came out less than a year after the group’s genesis – before it had even toured.

Rundman attributes this to demand. The Finnish-American population, he said in a phone interview last month, is small but active, and that audience frankly doesn’t have many options when it comes to traditional music from its ancestral home.“It’s a niche,” he said. “We’re some of the only choices they have as far as that goes.

“But apart from the demographics, I think it’s because Nordic music is really beautiful. I don’t say that because we’re such a great band; I say that because ... it’s just beautiful music. ... It’s just undeniably gorgeous music. ... The raw material is wonderful.”

He’s right, but also too modest. With roughly the same number of traditional tunes and originals, Kaivama is expertly poised between the old and new – aged melodies adorned by modern flourishes. A warm, jaunty keyboard, for example, matches Sara Pajunen’s coolly nimble fiddle on opening track “Schottische 150.”

Her expressive, yearning instrument anchors the record, and Rundman allows its voice to be heard clearly, accompanying it gently. On “Red Field,” a sparse banjo creates a tense, somber tone off which Pajunen works, and simple piano eventually brings a third voice into the conversation; you can hear the impact of each choice in instrumentation and arrangement.

Perhaps the best example of a modern take on the traditional is “Pirun Polska.” Rundman explained that Pajunen found the melody in a library in Finland, and it might be three centuries old. (They think it had been recorded only once before.) The sheet music didn’t include anything except the melody. What they wrote around it builds to the intensity of rock – with distortion and aggression in the fiddle – but “at the same time, it’s ancient,” he said.

That’s partly a function of their different backgrounds – Pajunen from classical music, Rundman from the rock and singer/songwriter worlds. “We feel like we’re meeting in the middle,” he said.

But that approach is also in keeping with the Finnish folk tradition. Contemporary traditional musicians in Finland, Rundman said, are “pretty far-out. They’re really being progressive with the tradition. ... We can be really progressive, too. That’s just how this kind of music operates. And that’s what makes it so much fun.”

Pajunen said the music has its roots in “community music for dancing, weddings, parties, funerals. A lot of the music is really based on dance tunes. ... We oftentimes try to write ... something in the dance structures, but little by little we go outside of those boundaries.”

Kaivama plays for both general audiences and fans of Nordic music, and it plans to continue to blend old tunes with originals. “Part of the point of the band is to uphold the Finnish musical tradition,” Rundman said. “So we’re committed to playing traditional Finnish music even as ... we’re writing a lot of new material. ... We really want to be sure we always play traditional Finnish music and bring that music to new audiences, as well.”

Kaivama will perform on Saturday, March 10, at 8 p.m. in the performance hall of the River Music Experience (129 Main Street in Davenport). The all-ages show also features Finnish composer/fiddler Arto Järvelä. Tickets ( are $10.

For more information on Kaivama, visit

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